A sandwich from Binh Minh

After breakfasting at Pho An Sandy, I’d figure I shoot a mile south east to the mean streets of NE Broadway.

To see if the sandwiches slung from the NE location of Binh Minh Bakery & Deli were still legit.

BBQ pork. Quick brush of fresh aioli, deft schmear of pate, tangy radish and carrot pickles, herb (cilantro), crusty french bread, and a dose of Maggi to round out the package. And jalapeño peppers. Ones that are hot. In Oregon. For $2.75 you’d be insane to not eat two, if not three.

Too legit to quit.

BINH MINH BAKERY & DELI

6812 NE Broadway St, Portland
(503) 257-3868

BINH MINH SANDWICHES

7821 SE Powell Blvd, Portland
(503) 777-2245

 

La Bonita (NE)

It had been a while since I’d visited La Bonita, Northeast Alberta’s venerable stalwart taqueria. An outing to the Oregon Food Bank deemed a revisit necessary.

Since my last visit La Bonita had opened a second outpost located in close-in North Portland. Had the original suffered as a result?

One noticeable difference is a slight bit of price creep. However, this is a highly gentrified part of Portland. White people—especially in these parts—love themselves some ethnic authenticity. Who can blame the fine folks at La Bonita for trendspotting?

The tacos were better than ever. Generously garnished fresh proteins atop delicious, handmade tortillas that seemed to even best my previous visit.

Expertly crisped asada.

Tangy and piquant pastor.

One of the better fish tacos I’ve had in recent Portland memory. A light sprinkle of queso really served this taco well.

Full metal taco jacket. Table salsas are still legit, as are the tacos, as is La Bonita’s street cred.

La Bonita

2839 NE Alberta St
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 281-3662

A pie at Gladstone Pizza

I had a pie from Gladstone Pizza a while ago. In a town with notable pizza stalwarts, and many up-and-coming pizza newcomers, Gladstone tends to fly under the radar.

The make a great pie, in my humble pizza opinion. Great crust, with a nice “chew” and quality toppings.

Including Mama Lil’ Peppers! A sausage and Mama Lil’ Peppers is a great combo, like Woodward and Bernstein, Sonny and Cher, Hannity and Colmes. Just kidding, Hannity and Colmes is actually like a combination of toxic smegma that forms a cancerous tumor in whomever approaches a 10 mile radius.

Here is the obligatory pizza upskirt, demonstrating the nice level of char. One person’s char is another person’s “burnt”, but fuck that person. The latter, not the former.

Gladstone Pizza

3813 S.E. Gladstone St.
Portland, OR 97202
(503) 775-1537

Dinner and a show: Miho Izakaya and The Joy Formidable

A show at North Portland’s Mississippi Studio meant a Yellow Line Max ride out to Miho, a counter-service izakaya located on the west side of Interstate (just across the street from the famed Kon Tiki/karaoke haunt The Alibi).

Ahi poke featured quite a bit of skin-on English seedless cucumber, which I’m not normally used to. But it worked, especially since the dish also showcased nice, fleshy chunks of tuna with plenty of spiced soy and a hint of sesame oil. A nice rendition to be sure.

Miho advertises a tonkotsu-style ramen, and as you can see the broth features a milky whiteness one commonly associates with this style of soup. I’m quite certain Miho starts with a commercially produced base (this applies to the noodles as well) and gussies it up, which is quite common for Japanese restaurants that aren’t solely ramen-yas or known to primarily focus on this exact discipline.

But I’d have to say Miho does a competent job in the ramen gussy-up arena, with a whole egg and other solid accoutrements (including fish cake, sprouts, and a nice amount of scallion). The pork did have a bit of unexpected smokiness, and could have had more of that tender unctuousness that protein from an ideal bowl of tonkotsu delivers.

Since I exist as a creature of habit, a bowl of ramen is always accompanied by a simple shochu on the rocks. I’m not picky — just bring me whatever you got. I’m eating a big bowl of MSG, it’s not like I’m trying to gently train my subtle palette.

Tonight’s band, The Joy Formidable, from Wales, did their country proud. If I was 15 years younger and unencumbered with self-awareness, I might have slavishly thrown myself to the whim of the lead singer/guitarist only to be disregarded like spent trash. And I would have loved it.

Miho Izakaya

4057 N Interstate Ave
Portland, OR 97227-1072
(503) 719-6152

Por Que No Taqueria

Stopped by the North Mississippi location of Por Que No recently for a nice lunch.

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The ceviche comes with plenty of freshly fried tortilla chips (that seem a bit too “puffy”, to lack a better description).

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If I would have to guess, these shrimp are cooked with heat rather than marinated in citrus, which makes this a “cocteles de cameron” rather than a strict ceviche. It was certainly decent, if a bit lacking in seasoning and with a tad bit too many dominant notes of citrus and acid. I’d, however, probably order this every time I revisited Por Que No, as for $8.50 it’s a good value, all things considered. Ask for some salt.

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Taco de pescado.

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Taco de camerones. Give it to Por Que No, they know how to present a visually appealing taco.

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These rojo (guajillo) and verde salsas (serve-yourself, to the immediate left of the counter) certainly look resonant and complex, but in reality they were tepidly restrained and a bit under seasoned.

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And a fully dressed taco here is a paragon of model good looks, but as with many runway fashion models, the underlying substance can be a tad wanting.

Taqueria Por Que No seems to invite strong feelings from the pro/con forces in Portland. But this is clear: they are much appreciated. After a few wildly successful years in North Portland at their Mississippi location, they opened up a SE Hawthorne outpost that seems to be more popular than the original.

I am thankful for the responsibly sourced ingredients. Menu items here are bright and vibrant in presentation, and certainly carefully crafted. The handmade tortillas are very good. The proteins are of high quality. It’s just that the fare here lacks that certain…oomph, that primal, “exciting” quality of authentic taqueria fare that makes your taste buds perk up in quasi-revolt. Por Que No feels more like the Decemberists than Red Fang.

Also, two tacos and a small cocteles came out to $16. The seafood tacos run $3.50 (for fish and calamari—which I wanted but they were out of) and shrimp is $4, and these aren’t any larger than your typical taqueria items, so cost, at least relative to other taquerias, probably influences those firmly in the Por Que No “con” camp. You would need 3 (if not 4) shrimp tacos to sate an appetite, which places Por Que No out of the indie rock realm and catapults them more into the highbrow, “literate rock” territory.

But hey, the Decemberists are a mighty fine band with many fans, and they sell a lot of records.

Por Que No

3524 N Mississippi Ave
Portland, OR 97227
(503) 467-4149

Pastrami on rye @ Kenny & Zuke’s

In my short time on this earth, and in even my shorter time of being aware of a self-appointed Jewish deli “Council of Elders”, people seem to talk a lot of shit about pastrami and what they perceive to be simulacrums of the real thing they used to get back in their homelands of New York or Montreal or Los Angeles. This happened ad nauseum when Kenny and Zukes debuted their concept of a “modern” Jewish deli in downtown Portland a few years ago.

But I really don’t give a fuck about provincial bitchslaps. Or childhood archetypes those insufferable prigs impossibly impose upon others who might judge what a good pastrami sandwich might taste like without first fully taking into account the historical migratory patterns of the anasazi Jewish diaspora. For me: does the pastrami taste good?

And Kenny and Zukes delivers what accounts to be, in my humble estimations, a damn good pastrami sandwich on rye.

The pastrami itself is hand-sliced, thick, meaty, smoky, tender, ringed with a nice amount of unctuoss fat – everything I look for in a sandwich meat. At one point in my life I wasn’t even a big rye fan, but I can say for certainty I am officially one now and K&Z’s rye bread is fine by me. Squeeze on some brown mustard and I’m golden.

The potato salad was a bit unexpected, as instead of the usual creamy glop this was vinegar-based, and fresh and vibrant.

Kenny & Zuke’s

1038 SW Stark St
Portland, OR 97205
503.222.3354

Dinner and a show: Biwa and the Thermals

Portland’s own Thermals played a show just last week here in Stumptown. The venue was Branx, a dank and sweaty den of inequity in Portland’s industrial inner-eastside brimming with underage grifters, B.O.-laden hipsters, and (on this night) a hapless, old loser that was yours truly.

One excellent benefit of the location is that it allowed me to start the night off right just a few blocks away at Biwa. And since it was a late Friday night punk rawk show, the late start (I’m really too old and decrepit these days to experience more than one live act in a row) meant I was seated at the counter just when late night/counter happy hour was just kicking off.

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As is customary at Biwa, things start of with a hot towel followed by a simple amuse of stewed daikon and konbu. Such a simple and wonderful tradition.

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A shochu on the rocks with a Sapporo back.

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The steak tartare at Biwa has long been a favorite of mine. In the past, it was served with thin slices of cucumber. On this occasion, small, pointed spears of crisp romaine accompanied the tartare, and I used the lettuce as a foil on which to scoop delicious nibbles of cold beef. The beef was spicier than what I’ve experience in previous visits, punched up with sesame oil and green onions, and the richness of the quail egg really tied the dish together. I love beef crudo/tartare, and I have to say Biwa’s version is one of my favorite renditions.

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On to the Biwa ramen. Biwa used to feature two types of ramen, most recently the “Biwa” version and a “Chicken” version. They’ve consolidated, I presume for expediency sakes, into one version. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on Biwa’s version of ramen — many appear to pooh-pooh it as an erstwhile simulacrum of the real deal. I know when Biwa first opened I had difficulty accepting it as the genuine article, but the last half dozen bowls I’ve had over the last couple years have been solid, which I think results through ongoing tinkering and adjustment. The most recent version featured toothsome, curly fresh noodles and a nicely salty broth with a bit of “cloudiness” that hit nice pork notes and was ultimately satisfying. Biwa’s ramen is rather minimalist, topped with just green onions, a sheet of nori, and an egg. But oh man, that egg. It tastes like a farm fresh egg, and I would put it on a 5-to-6 minute scale that results in a perfectly soft-boiled yolk that spills unctuously into the soup. So fucking good.

I think my bill came out to $22, drinks included. Normally the ramen is $10 or so, and if you up the ante with extra toppings such as cha su pork (at $4) the price can get quite ridiculous for a bowl of soup, but as it stood the Biwa ramen was an insane steal at $5 (this pricing is only available to those who sit at the counter, and only after 9:30 pm).

Biwa continues to bring the goods.

And so do the Thermals.

Sandwich from Bunk Sandwiches

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A recent lunch-time trek for a sandwich from Portland’s venerable Bunk Sandwiches proved to be a worthy dispatch.

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Here’s the full menu.

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I picked up an Italian Meats Sandwich with Mama’s Lil’s peppers and provolone piccante. It was stuffed inside a perfectly crusty roll, and the quality of bread, fillings and garnishes immeasurably bootstrapped the overall experience.

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At $9 it’s not the cheapest sandwich you can find, but it is surely one of the bestest. Those Mama Lil’l peppers are like capsicum crack.

Bunk Sandwiches

621 Southeast Morrison Street
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 477-9515

Bunk Sandwiches on the WORLD WIDE WEB

Bunk thread on Portlandfood.org

Bunk @ Portland Food and Drink.com

Eating Tucson again: Little Cafe Poca Cosa

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A must-visit for me each and every time I visit my old stomping grounds in Tucson is “Little” Cafe Poca Cosa, the charming, diminutive outpost of the venerable Cafe Poca Cosa. The original restaurant serves decidedly “upscale” Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, while its little cousin seats only a few dozen and has a smaller, more concentrated menu of well executed dishes. But in keeping with the rich Poca Cosa tradition, the plates at the Little outlet are still vibrant and full of color and fresh flavors.

My office for a year was located just steps across the alleyway from their original downtown location, and I ate there at least a couple times a week. One thing I appreciated was that Little Poca Cosa (since their lunch platters consisted of mostly of slowly braised meats, and rice and beans were already available on the breakfast plates) served their full menu even for breakfast. And at 9:15 a.m. in the morning, music (world/latino music with a social justice bent) would pump in from the stereo system at wonderfully uncomfortable levels. This fit into my savory breakfast worldview quite nicely, and also cemented my preferred lazy routine — rolling into the office, responding to a few emails, finding a couple things on the Internet to outrage me, and then heading out for a spicy bit to eat — that I still practice with great zeal to this day.

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Unfortunately this is now not the case. Change can be hard…but good thing I came for lunch!

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My go-to dish was always the pork (“cochinito”) chili colorado. My most recent visit found that LPC has changed the dish up a bit, no longer serving cubes of braised meat but rather pork that has a “pulled” consistency.

It was still excellent.

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The meal begins as usual with freshly fried tortilla chips and a safe (in terms of spice level) and fresh tomato salsa. You’ll also get your own very own warmer full of precious little corn tortillas.

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The beans are always well executed, and a touch of salt is needed to really bring out the flavor of the perfectly cooked pintos.

My preferred plan of attack is to roll the chili colorado into tacos (with salsa spooned on top), then the beans, and then I douse the salad with herbed dressing Poca Cosa features on the table.

Then, after polishing off the fruit, I mix the rice with the residual chili sauce and dressing (which lends a crisp, salad-y, acid-tinged finish), and inhale every last grain.

Little Poca Cosa

151 N Stone Ave
Tucson, AZ 85707

Coppa Steak @ Toro Bravo

Another electrical guitar-driven rock-n-roll music concert at the Wonder Ballroom means another pre-show nosh at Toro Bravo. I am a creature of repetition.

Things started off with a Basque Kiss—Monopolowa vodka, Txakolina wine, apricot liqueur, peach bitters, lemon.

I hadn’t had the Coppa Steak in a couple years, and considering I was about to witness the frenetic, punk art-rock stylings of Brooklyn’s Les Savy Fav, I felt red meat would properly gird my loins for the impending sonic assault. The coppa steak is sliced to order from an entire smoked beef shoulder, layered atop olive oil-poached fingerlings and chopped olives, and served with a healthy dollop of almond-y salbitxada sauce. A smoky dish of meaty satisfaction.

Bun Bo Hue Minh

Bun Bo Hue Minh has no relation to Binh Minh, the venerable banh mi shop with locations in NE and SE Portland, or Pho Binh Minh, the erstwhile pho joint in Tigard with attitude problems. It’s all a bit confusing, but one thing the Vietnamese people are known for, along with degenerate gambling and screaming into phone handsets for no apparent reason, is a lack of brand self-awareness and being innately incapable to create singularly unique nomenclature. On my mother’s side, I have at least three cousins named “Duc Nguyen”.

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The location, just east of the 205 on SE Division, is kind of a dive, which for Vietnamese soup joint is often considered a redeeming quality.

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That and the chili-spiked fish sauce condiment that is on the table informs you that this is the right place for a good bowl of soup.

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As the name suggests, Bun Bo Hue Minh specializes in the central Vietnamese soup that features rice noodles (fatter than the vermicelli common to pho or bun dishes), and showcases a deeply flavored, fiery broth seasoned with chilis and lemongrass.

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And Bun Bo Hue Minh certainly does produce a solid rendition. The broth—strong and assertive—is chock full of the meaty goodness you expect out of a great bowl of bun bo hue, including slices of beef shank, peppery cha lua, pork knuckles, and, for the bold, cubes of congealed pork blood. If you come here only for the namesake specialty, you’ll do good. I have to say, in regards to this particular dish, Ngoc Han Bun Bo Hue delivers the unrivaled deliciousness in these parts, but Bun Bo Hue Minh is no slouch (along with “Bun Bo Hue”, further down south on SE 82nd near Clackamas — I know, it’s very confusing).

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But BBHM also rolls a tight salad roll—fresh and well handled. At $3.50, two of these are great value. The dual chive backbone that runs the length of the roll informs you that someone cares. As I always sub nuoc cham instead of the (more traditional) hoison, and I appreciate it when a Vietnamese restaurant aggressively seasons their dipping sauce, but I always spike it with garlic chili sauce. If your Vietnamese doesn’t have this on the table, you’re going to the wrong place.

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I also enjoyed the bun rieu here. The soup came with a fair amount of meat/seafood “loaf”, and the broth had a great balance of flavors, pungent with seafood flavor and redolent of deep tomato. Bun rieu is typically a soup I avoid in a restaurant (my mom’s version was a household favorite growing up) and in my experience it’s an afterthought at most Viet restaurants that try to cover all the bases. As a general rule I won’t order it unless a place is known for it (the only reason I came here to order it was on the strength of Extra MSG’s report at Portlandfood.org), but BBHM delivers a dependable version.

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Above: The busser hates my kind.

I’m not sure what was up my first very visit (when I ordered bun rieu), but I was only given a sparse salad plate of cilantro, sprouts, and lime by a busser. Bun rieu absolutely demands mints (spearmint, parilla, lemon balm) so I had to flag down my server and insist that this treasonous crime against humanity be addressed immediately. I’m not sure if the busser thought perhaps I wasn’t part Vietnamese, but in any regard I accused him of racism and cursed his family, including his pets. We exchanged fisticuffs on Division street, and subsequently a pop-locking/breakdance battle. Nobody won (nobody ever wins). I assume this faux pas de garni was simply a one-time oversight, and ensuing visits have proved this to be the case. But as overly enthusiastic Ron Paul teabaggers abundantly proved this past election cycle, don’t ever allow anybody to TREAD ON YOU.

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Above: What I made them bring me, as the U.S. Constitution mandates an abundant garnish platter (Article 7, Section 3, Paragraph 2), just like it says slaves are 60% human.

Bun Bo Hue Minh

8560 Southeast Division Street
Portland, OR 97266-1553
(503) 777-1917

Bun Bo Hue Minh on the WORLD WIDE WEB

Portlandfood.org

Bun Moc @HA&VL…again

Every Saturday I go to HA&VL, including last Saturday, I go into the small restaurant intent on trying their version of Bun Bo Hue, which I see others eating and which always looks fantastic. But the lure of the bun moc (and the fact I can get excellent versions of BBH at the two places that specialize in this soup just within a stone throw’s of HA&VL at any time) always wins me over. Chock full of peppery pork meatballs, cha lua, fish balls, and slices of pork ringed with gelatinous fatty goodness, it always delivers satisfaction on a level that is now legendary.

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I love how HA&VL has evolved from its original roots of a coffee/sandwich shop, and now has a fully panoply of on-table condiments, including chopped bird chilies soaking in fish sauce, which allows me to spike alternate spoonfuls with tiny flavorful umami heat bombs throughout the course of devouring this delicious soup.

HA&VL Sandwiches

2738 SE 82nd Ave Ste 103
Portland, OR 97266
(503) 772-0103

Eating Los Angeles: Animal

I was in Los Angeles late last year, and had the pleasure to spend a night on the town with the lovely and the talented LA food blogging couple extraordinaire, Jeni of Oishii Eats and her husband Dylan of Eat Drink & Be Merry. They took me to the aptly named “Animal” on Fairfax Avenue, a restaurant with an indie cred (worn proudly on sleeve) that trades in the same lo-fi execution/hi-fi ingredient approach that many Portlanders would find quite familiar.

I’ve thought about this meal on occasion since then, but it wasn’t until I ran across a few photos Dylan shared with me that I truly remembered how delicious this meal was.

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Fluke with grape and yuzu granita, mint, serrano chilies, and pea shoots.

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Pork belly with kimchi, with a chili-infused soy, garnished with peanuts. The kimchi reminded more of the pickles you’d get with a banh mi sandwich, and this gave the dish more of a Vietnamese feel than Korean.

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Fried pig’s tail, with mustard and zucchini pickles.

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Fried sweetbreads and hen of the woods mushrooms on top of creamed spinach, garnished with capers and grapefruit. This dish really sang to me; earthy, savory, and tart.

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Oxtail poutine. This was the star of the night, and I’m not normally a huge poutine fan. The fries were perfectly crisp and delicious, and the oxtail was melting, and the gravy rich with oxtail beefiness. Just the right amount of fine white cheddar.

Animal

435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 782-9225

Fast Blood and Toro Bravo

Frightened Rabbit at The Wonder Ballroom last weekend.

And a show at Wonder always means a pre-show meal at the Toro Bravo bar.

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A citrus-based cocktail I don’t quite remember the details of, outside that it had a very unique and super tasty pickled cherry hiding at the bottom of the glass.

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The spicy octopus stew, one of my favorites. And boy, is this seriously spicy. I was at first disappointed the prep of this dish had changed; instead of baby octopus and their tentacles lurking within the piquant tomato stew, a portion of a large octopus (cut on a bias ) were laid over top. Any apprehension was quickly erased. This was some delicious, expertly grilled cephalopod.

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Calamari a la plancha, on top of a white bean and chorizo stew. This wasn’t at all like I expected, as I also expected a full squid carcass grilled on a metal plate. And the white beans appeared to be not white at all. But man, this was delicious. I inhaled the dish, and the beans were so creamy and savory I could eat it for breakfast on toast.

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I even ran into the band before the show, and bought them a round of drinks. These Scottish lads drink shots of Jameson.

Pho An Sandy

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I’ve been going to this place for nearly eight years, back when it was Pho Oregon “West” (despite being only a mile from the other Pho Oregon at NE 82nd Ave).

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The interior is spartan. You are automatically rationed the standard beverages.

It took a name change, and a format change, plus Extra MSG’s vetting of the assorted grilled meat platter, that got me thinking about anything but pho at this place.

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But why would I? I’ve long contended this location on NE Sandy, when it existed as a namesake to the NE 82nd version, had the better bowl of soup of the two doppelgängers. Since the obvious switch of ownership (and name, and staff, who are now dressed in lovely white uniforms) a few years back, I had no reason to really look past the first turn of the first menu page, the page where various permutations of pho are listed in perfunctory uniformity, the same list xeroxed and sampled by every pho joint from Chula Vista to Bellingham.

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The salad platter at Pho An Sandy, as it was back when it was Pho Oregon, is unparalleled in Portland. You will always get more than enough <em>ngo gai</em>, aka culantro aka sawtooth herb, no matter how lily white your skin or accent may be.

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The broth at Pho An Sandy I believe is one of our city’s most well balanced, though—as with any soup joint with high turnover that is constantly bootstrapping their stockpot—it can vary in the amount of spice, clarity, beefiness, sweetness, etc.

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The braised meats (chin, nam) are very consistent.

All in all, a very excellent pho, served quickly and without fuss. What more could you ask for? Well, Pho An Sandy also has a wide and varied menu that expands beyond the perfunctory soup offerings.

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Including this “dac biet” mixed grill platter, which features bo la lot (beef wrapped in betel leaves), grilled lemongrass pork (topped with sauteed shallots and chopped peanuts)…

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…grilled sugarcane shrimp…

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…and nem nuong (pork patty/sausage)

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As is Pho An Sandy’s MO, the salad platter that accompanied this impressive phalanx of deliciously grilled meats was generous, overflowing with spearmint, perilla, rau ram, cucumber, and lettuce.

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The general idea with Vietnamese meats is to roll your own (using the carefully constructed quenelles of rice noodles served with the meats as a starch foundation), thus you’re given a bowl of warm water and dried rice paper sheets…

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…and a bowl of nuoc cham dipping sauce (always add a dollop of the fresh chili garlic sauce on the table—you’ll be thankful).

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A delicious strip of nem nuong about in pre-rolled state.

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I can roll a fat blunt.

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Come to daddy, sugarcane shrimp.

Pho An Sandy on THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Portlandfood.org

Pho An Sandy

6236 Northeast Sandy Boulevard
Portland, OR 97213
(503) 281-2990

Sanchez Taqueria…they’ve expanded

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All 1.5 readers of this blog know I’m a big fan of Sanchez Taqueria, Tigard’s very own taste of Mexico that churns out delicious meats wrapped in hand-made pillows of fresh tortilla goodness (aka the “taco”).

Many of these readers will be interested to discover that Sanchez has expanded, usurping the square footage once occupied by (what I assume was) an erstwhile BBQ joint that formerly shared the same building.

Sanchez now bills itself as a “panaderia”…

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…and in this case the strength of this size alone legitimizes their claim, even if their baked goods at the time were a bit sparse.

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Ordering is done at the front counter, as before, the operative difference being that the front counter now occupies it’s own room (equipped with seating for to-go orders) at the very south side of the taqueria.

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The interior is now quite cavernous, now spanning two separate rooms, each one singularly larger than the previous dining area altogether.

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Tacos.

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Asada. Wasn’t as crisp as I’ve had previous visits. It’s consistently very crisp, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

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Excellent pastor this time. Just a very tiny bit too sweet than where my tastes lay, but excellent and crisped up better than the asada this day.

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Full metal taco jacket.

Sanchez Taqueria

13050 Southwest Pacific Highway
Tigard, OR 97223-5072
(503) 684-2838

Eating Tucson: Lerua’s tamales

I recently ventured back to “The Old Pueblo”, aka Tucson, Arizona.

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These tamales from Lerua’s were waiting for us thanks to the father-in and mother-in-law.

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A fine specimen of a tamale, if a bit on the drier side. These were red chili beef tamales. The paler version (on the right) were green chili (no meat).

With an ample layer of house made salsa, these tamales became really excellent.

Lerua’s Fine Mexican Food

2005 East Broadway Boulevard
Tucson, AZ 85719-5937
(520) 624-0322

Ramen @Biwa

Stopped by Biwa recently for a bowl of soup.

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One bonus of dining at Biwa, in addition to a hot towel that warms the soul, is the amuse you get of marinated sea vegetable. Just a couple bites to start the meal off right.

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Biwa Ramen, with the egg option. The egg has that great consistency that’s a bit beyond soft- but appropriately short of hard-boiled.

When Biwa first opened, I was eager to check it out for the ramen alone. While I loved everything else about Biwa, the ramen fell a bit short.

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But they’ve retooled dish, and the noodles are consistently curly and toothsome, and the broth that comprises their namesake ramen is deeply flavorful, redolent of roasted onion and simmered pork, most comparable I would estimate to a dark shoyu stock. My last couple visits the broth featured little bits of fat that added a bit of delicious, unctuous richness. Biwa also features a Chicken Ramen that has a much lighter broth—I’ve had it once and found it fine, but personally I would opt for the complexity of the Biwa ramen each and every time.

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The ramen at Biwa is garnished a bit sparsely (with just green onion and a thin sheet of nori), and once you retool it with optional add-ons (egg for $1 and/or chasyu pork at $2 – the pork looks great, check out Sauce Supreme’s photo) it can become a somewhat expensive bowl of soup. But right now, unless there’s some new option I’m not aware of, I think Biwa is churning out the best bowl of Japanese-style soup in our fair burg.

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While not very prototypical in terms of style and execution, I would say it’s a distinctly Portland take on ramen (above is a shot of the “parking lot”) and I’m officially a fan.

Biwa

215 Southeast 9th Avenue
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 239-8830

Biwa on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Portlandfood.org
pdx Plate
SauceSupreme

Snacks @Ping

Recently hit Chinatown’s Ping for some post-work drinks and snackables.

Bellied up to the counter/bar, where I prefer eating. At Ping you might smell like a combination of smoke and fish sauce when you leave, though.

Ping features excellent skewered meat. A round was ordered. At Ping the skewered meat is priced per skewer, but you have to order a minimum of two. This has always been their policy, even since I first visited Ping a little over a year ago during its Grand Opening week. Apparently the two skewer minimum is a problem for some people. Why don’t they just say there’s two to an order and double the price? I thought about this long and hard over the last year, and then it occurred to me. With this policy, you can order three! or Five! Or Seven!!!

lamb satay skewer: malaysian satay with peanut sauce. ($2.50/ea)

bbq beef skewer: with pineapple & chili, sweet soy, pepper and fish sauce. ($2.50/ea)

baby-octopus skewer: marinated in lime, chilies, garlic, fish sauce and cilantro. ($3.50/ea)

house-made fish ball skewer: thai-style, dipped in sweet chili sauce. ($2.50/ea)

Everthing was oh so flavorful and tasty. Like food. Aggressively seasoned. Made with ingredients. So another round was ordered.

To mix up the protein, a decision was made to introduce a bit of green. Something to modulate this gut carpet-bombing campaign.

nonya-style greeen beans: in spicy coconut curry and fried shallots. ($8). NOTE: this is just an a la carte dish. No two order minimum. Though I would order two because they are tasty and toothsome.

beef satay skewer. malaysian satay with peanut sauce. ($2.50/ea)

We had the lamb already…why not the beef? I am an equal opportunity, craven consumer of ungulate flesh, especially that of the artiodactyl. I assume one day I shall explore perissodactyls with the zeal and attention they deserve.

quail egg skewer: wrapped in bacon, with spicy mayo sauce. ($2.75/ea)

It is my contention that if you ate these with every meal every day for the rest of your life you would die happy and stupid and soon.

A salted plum collins and a couple Tiger beers rounded things out.

And because I’m a masochist who actively sabotages his lower gastrointestinal tract, another couple deliciously incendiary skewers of the spicy baby octopus made their way to our countertop. Much to the displeasure of my anus the next morning. Don’t hate the playa; hate the game.

Ping

102 Northwest 4th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 229-7464

Ping on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

pdx PLATE
Portlandfood.org
BB has been here…
and Lizzy has been here…
and so has the Fearless Critic

Jade Patisserie and Teahouse

Jade Patisserie and Teahouse is a charming, family-run establishment located on that equally charming strip of 13th Avenue in Sellwood that boasts antique shops and other things white people like.

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Jade is owned and operated by a Vietnamese family that executes straightforward, homestyle southeast Asian favorites with an emphasis on bright, impeccably fresh flavors.

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Ordering is done at the counter, before an impressively composed, handwritten chalkboard menu rife with solid typography. I want these fonts.

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The salad rolls are available with lemongrass tofu, or shrimp and chicken. Unlike the goi cuon you’ll find at standard Vietnamese greasy spoons, these have no noodles and feature a higher ratio of vegetables and herbs. For $5, it’s a huge order.

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These are some of the best salad rolls I’ve had in town, tightly packed with fresh thai basil leaves that give them an anise-y snap. The fact that the tofu itself is seasoned beyond being simply fried is a touch that does not go unnoticed.

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The won ton soup is a pleasant rendition, with a mild but flavorful broth. I definitely appreciated the greens and slices of lean char sui.

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The dumplings themselves are on the diminutive side—you won’t confuse these with the overstuffed wontons at Kenny’s Noodle House—but overall it’s a satisfying dish.

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The “Stir Fried Rice Noodles” here are nothing really more than stir fried rice noodles. The peanuts denote that it could be a sort of “pad thai” but it’s not trying to be this at all—just a mild, enjoyable noodle dish, if somewhat on the bland side. You’ll want to ask for some chili oil or Siracha to spike it up. But the composure of the dish speaks to what Jade is all about: fresh, simple, and comforting.

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Which brings up another distinction. While Jade Patisserie and Teahouse is a full-fledged restaurant, it has a very casual feel. Unlike most Vietnamese restaurants you won’t find condiments (or chopsticks and spoons, for that matter) at each table.

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This shot above is of the wonderful nook tucked into the far end of the restaurant (that features Connect Four).

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I love the char sui hum bao here. It’s flat on either end unlike the dome-shaped buns you’re more likely to encounter. A much greater protein-to-dough ratio is the result, which in this case is a very good thing, as the hum bao is brimming with flavorful chopped bbq pork.

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The beef stew here (bo kho) is one of the better versions of beef stew you’ll find in any restaurant, Vietnamese or otherwise. This is down-home cooking, rich, deep and satisfying.

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If you’re anything like me you’ll be busting your gut to sop up every last drop with crusty french bread—just like at home.

Jade Patisserie and Teahouse

7912 Southeast 13th Avenue

Portland, OR 97202

(503) 477-8985

Jade Patisserie and Teahouse on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

WineGuy World justly sings praises

As does KAB

Denise loves it too!

Little T American Baker

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Little T American Baker is a bakery/sandwich/espresso shop located on SE Division.

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Its stark, modern interior features a rectangularly framed display case showing off the daily baked goods.

Including an excellent, crusty baguette. The breads at Little T are a treat.

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A well-scribbled, chalkboard menu describes the daily offerings. The sandwiches options are mostly are static, but do seem to have a bit of variance from what I’ve seen.

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Texas Cowgirl. Egg and cheddar on Sally Nunn (sort of a Texas Toast – $5.50). An excellent breakfast sandwich, cooked perfectly. A bonus about Little T is that they serve breakfast sandwiches on the weekend well into the afternoon.

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The “Italian hoagie on seeded baguette” ($6.75) is not the most loaded of Italian style hoagies, but it hit the spot.

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I personally would like more “tang” in the form of peppers, onions, maybe a tapenade. Perfectly fine, and the seeded baguette is a nice foil for the high-quality meats and cheese.

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This “Ham and cheese and pretzel bread” ($4.50) is quite scrumptious. A pleasant snack, or, in this case, a sizable meal for my daughter, who for the first time ate an entire commercially purchased sandwich.

Little T American Baker

2600 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97202-1253
(503) 238-3458

Little T American Baker on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Official Website
Portlandfood.org
ExtraMSG

Ramen @Hakatamon

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I’ve made repeated visits to Southwest Portland’s Hakatamon (located in the Uwajimaya Asian Market Superstore prefecture of near-Beaverton) since they introduced their Hakata-style tonkotsu broth ramen dishes some 20 months ago.

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The cha-su pork here continues to be really excellent. This visit I’ve found the stock to be a bit too restrained…somewhat tepid. Garnishes included konbu, pickled ginger, green onions. sesame seeds. And of course the delicious kurobuta pork. The noodles I’ve determined need work. Too straight and pasta-like for my tastes. A fresh, toothsome, curly noodle, combined with refinement to the stock, could make this a more satisfying and complete bowl. Nevertheless, personally this is a good option for ramen in the Portland metro area.

Kenny’s Noodle House

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Kenny’s is a new-ish Hong Kong-style noodle soup house on Portland’s southeast side, on the north side of Powell (just across the street from Best Baguette).

They’ve had a grand opening sign in front of their establishment for about 5 months now. That’s marketing.

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The interior is clean and faux modern. Small and cozy.

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You’ll get a nice cup of tea once you sit down. I tend to only drink one cup of tea, so I prefer a freshly poured, singular hot cup if tea to the metallic teapot service (and I imagine these teapots are constantly repurposed).

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Condiment tray features standard condiments–red vinegar, white and black pepper, and the ubiquitous (and fiery) chili paste.

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Default bowl of wonton soup.

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Disgustingly posed photo of a half-eaten wonton cross-section.

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From my post at Portlandfood.org:

“I like this place. It’s comfort food. The default garnish on the wanton noodle soups are sparse, with only a few slivers of the white of a green onion, but I ask them to add some bok choy and they happily oblige. And of course, the oily chili paste and dashes of white pepper complete the bowl.

“…the dumplings are large and stuffed with entire shrimp, and the minced pork filling is mild, but fine, and it doesn’t have that slight “off” or “gamey” taste I’ve experienced (maybe from heavy handedness with 5-spice or Shaoxing wine) at other places, like the Chinatown Good Taste location.”

Kenny’s Noodle House

8305 SE Powell Blvd
Portland, OR 97266
(503) 771-6868

Kenny’s Noodle House on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Portlandfood.org

PDX Plate

Lunch buffet @Tandoor Indian Kitchen

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Two plates from the lunch buffet ($9 all-you-can-eat). Samplings include tandoori chicken, basmati rice, biryani, eggplant and potato curry, veggie pakora, chicken tikka masala, palak paneer, naan, raita, green salad.

Could use more spice and heat all around. Would eat again.

Tandoor Indian Kitchen

406 SW Oak Street
Portland, OR 97204
(503) 243-7777

Tandoor Indian Kitchen on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Portlandfood.org

50 Plates

50 Plates—a newish, modern Pearl District eatery—has somewhat of a kitchsy concept. Its cutesy menu inhabits the murky hinterlands between playful and hackneyed cornball, sort of like HBO’s True Blood.

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Castroville Artichoke Rolls. “goat cheese, roasted garlic & artichoke filling, avocado ranch”

These sounded quite intriguing, though what we received was incompatible with my expectations. These were more like eggrolls, and were disappointingly on the small side. But they were fine.

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50/50. “aged cheddar on tomato bread, roasted tomato soup with oregano”

This is essentially a take on the childhood comfort staple of grilled cheese and Campbell’s tomato soup.

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Unlike the overly processed banality of the latter, 50 Plates’ take on tomato soup was full of vibrant, intense tomato flavors, simple and delicious. The sandwich was a grilled cheese sandwich. It was eaten.

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T.J. Caesar. “hearts of romaine, charred corn, cherry tomatoes, fried croutons and cave-aged gouda”

I’m usually not a big fan of “non-standard” Caesar salads, and despite the initials in the name (“T.J.” = Tijuana) that implies some sort of lineage to the birthplace of original Caesar, this salad certainly qualifies as non-traditional. Nicely dressed and composed, the dressing itself was too mild to be considered proper “Caesar” but the salad was enjoyable nonetheless.

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The seafood chowder (“Today’s Chowdah“—implying naturally that a different chowder is featured each day) was quite good, featuring plump mussels, clams, and nice chunks of tender white fish in a rich broth not overly thick and maudlin like many seafood chowders can be.

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Sliders are ordered at 50 Plates a la carte, and each separate slider came with a flag to distinguish its sovereignty. This must be a tedious step for any cook. Plus, it’s needlessly nationalistic. I live by the motto “hamburguesas sin fronteras”.

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Lil’ Kahuna Burger. “Kobe beef, Canadian bacon, pineapple, & teriyaki glaze”

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Old Faithful “Kobe beef, Tillamook cheddar, tomato jam”

As you can see each miniature burger was expertly constructed, and the flavors were spot on. My quibble was with the size of the sliders. They were literally about two bites, diminutive even for burgers in slider form (and at $4 a pop, no bargain either). You would probably need to eat four sliders to properly get your grub on.

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The fresh-cut fries were good, and the house made ketchup (“Nikki’s Ketchup”) was a terrific, tangy complement.

So in addition to combining two overwrought beef trends (“Kobe” beef and “sliders”), these burgers were ultimately a smidgeon too twee for me, I suppose. When I want to get my burger on I’m more in mood for Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run than Belle and Sebastian’s Boy with the Arab Strap.

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A platter of biscuits and assorted starches accompany your meal at 50 Plates, including a savory, crumbly cheddar biscuit that my daughter loved dunking in her bowl of “chowdah”. Major bonus points for going beyond the perfunctory bread basket.

50 Plates

333 Northwest 13th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209-3144
(503) 228-5050

The Schnitzelwich

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I’ve read interweb notices over the past few years that have sung the praises of the Schnitzelwich. Posts by Portland’s own recipe blogger extraordinaire Michelle@Je Mange la Ville and the fine folks at Portlandfood.org. What’s not to dream of? I remember living in Turkey when I was 15 years old and I discovered a sandwich shop of note and decided that fresh, breaded protein sandwiched between two fine slices of bread can be a beautiful thing.

However, since I don’t find myself downtown during lunch much at all, the Schnitzelwich has long eluded me. But recently I had some business downtown to tend to, and was fortunate enough to swing by the Tabor food cart to before heading back to work and sample this culinary curiosity finally, once and for all.

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The Tabor cart itself is one of downtown’s more striking and creative pods, wearing a distinctive DIY ethic on its sleeves.

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By the way, the cart does serve other foodstuffs that is not the Schnitzelwich. One day I might be lucky enough to eat all these as well.

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But the Schnitzelwich is what we are concerning ourselves with. And man, what a sandwich. A perfectly crispy shell of delicious breading encases a tenderized pork filet. And it is huge–the entire filet spills out from all sides of the Grand Central ciabatta roll (a perfect foil) in which it is sandwiched and is the size of small woman’s foot.

The bread is schmeared on either side with a mild ajvar chili relish and horseradish spread. A couple crisp, green romaine leaves complete the garnish. My only quibble would be with the abundance of the horseradish, but that’s simply a personal preference and I would ask for a light spread my next time.

Tacos @Taqueria Sanchez

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A recent trip to Tigard’s own Taqueria Sanchez confirmed that they’re still delivering excellent tacos on the 99W.

I’ve long been a fan of their tortillas, and the last couple visits have revealed that perhaps they either have changed up their recipe or perhaps changed their process. These tortillas seem to lack a slight bit of “sponginess”. These were still excellent, hand-made tortillas, but they did seem to have more of a “char” to them.

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Asada.

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The fish is always a crowd pleaser.

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Wonderfully crispy pastor.

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Full metal jacket taco. At Sanchez, the verde has more heat than its red counterpart. Both combine to cause a fair amount of scalp sweating every time I leave.

Sanchez Taqueria

13050 SW Pacific Hwy
Tigard, OR 97223
Phone: (503) 684-2838

Wonton noodle soup @Golden Horse

I have a special place in my heart for wonton noodle soup.

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Many people wouldn’t be caught dead at Golden Horse considering the location (across the street from a strip club, at the ass end of “Chinatown”) and how much of a dive it’s considered to be, but after a night of drinking (with only have $9 in your pocket) sometimes a hot bowl of soup—with a healthy dollop of chili oil glop—really does hit the spot. And at Golden Horse, they even add a nice amount of bok choy sum, cutting the flour, meat and MSG with a nice vegetal edge. And you’ll still have $2 leftover for the bus fare.

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Like I mentioned, I have a special place in my heart for wonton noodle soup. A dirty restaurant, in one of Portland’s lesser neighborhoods, on a lonely weekday evening, only seems to enhance that fondness.

Golden Horse Seafood Restaurant

238 NW 4th Ave
Portland, OR 97209-3806
(503) 228-1688

Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion: Downtown LA

I was recently in Los Angeles for a conference. I decided a much needed respite from listening to a company lie about their software all day involved hitting happy hour at the Roy’s that was a few blocks from the convention center. Lucky for me they had food, drinks, AND a television that was broadcasting that evening’s National Football contest between the Packers of Green Bay (Wisconsin) and the Vikings of Minnesota.

Sliders. Officially “Teppanyaki Grilled Beef Sliders with Chipolte Aioli & Sweet Potato Chips”.

Poke. Officially “Yellow Fin Ahi ‘Poketini’ – Wasabi Aioli, Avocado and Tobiki Caviar”. This was great.

Drinks. Pomegranate Mojito and Hawaiian Martini. Officially very, very gay. But very refreshing nonetheless.

Luckily, I was able to salvage some vestige of my diminishing manhood by watching football while I peed.

I’m not sure why, but after I paid up and was about to leave (you can tell by the sun going down causing all the noise on my iPhone’s camera), some guy brought me this salmon tempura roll “on the house”. Maybe they felt sorry for me for sitting alone and ordering a white, frothy drink with a big ole’ pineapple jutting out from one side, and decided to show some compassion and give me an “amuse douche.” In any regard, it was a fairly nice gesture.

Roy’s mines that fusion territory that approaches gimmicky, but for my first visit I have to say they do it rather well.

Andina

I had the good fortune to spend a recent birthday lunch at Andina, Portland’s destination for upscale Peruvian fusion cuisine.

Soon after menus were dropped, we were presented with bread and this trio of salsas. At the far end was a mild, smooth and creamy salsa infused with peanuts, in the middle a vibrant, fruity puree, and at the near end a fiery, intense salsa verde. All were absolutely great, with the heat factor intensifying as you worked from creamy to verde.

PIMIENTO PIQUILLO RELLENO “Piquillo peppers stuffed with cheese, quinoa and Serrano ham”

Pimiento cross-section. A perfect appetizer. Light, refreshing.

ANTICUCHO DE PULPO “Grilled octopus kebob with rocoto and caper chimichurri”

One of the better octopus dishes in recent memory. It was served on top of a delicious, savory, starchy (yuca/cornmeal?) puree—I could have eaten a whole bowl of this stuff.

A LA CHALACA “Sashimi-style fresh fish in an ají Amarillo vinaigrette, served with corn salsa criolla”

Today’s fish featured Ono. The ají Amarillo had just the right level of heat to punch up this raw dish. I could drink the vinaigrette straight up in a shot glass.

AJÍ DE GALLINA “Succulent pulled chicken in an ají Amarillo, peanut, and cream-based sauce served with yellow potatoes, white rice, and Botija olives and hard-boiled egg””

Comfort food at it’s finest. Portland would be well-served by a food cart dishing out Peruvian home cooking such as this.

CONCHAS A LA PARILLA “Grilled diver scallops with a garlic lime butter sauce and crispy onions”

The scallop was wonderfully grilled, slightly opaque in the center, with a mild sauce accentuated with a bit of soy. The onions could have been a bit more crisply flash-fried.

Andina continues to be one of Portland’s brightest shining stars, with expertly presented, colorful dishes and vibrant flavors churned out with punctual regularity. A true gem.

Andina

1314 NW Glisan St
Portland, OR 97209
503-228-9535

Andina on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Food Dude’s Review.
PDX Plate.
PortlandFood.org.
Bruce/Wineguyworld has been here.
So has KAB.

Ngoc Han Bún Bò Huế revisited

With the local press and food bloggers all aflutter (and rightfully so) with the homemade goodness that rotates daily at nearby HA&VL, it can be easy to overlook the deliciousness that is served up every day (and night) at Ngoc Han Bún Bò Huế.

I myself just recently revisited after a months long dry spell. One early weekend morning I happened upon a full-on crowd scene at HA&V (the wait was about 15 minutes, which, for me, is about 14 minutes too long). Lucky for me, Ngoc Han Bún Bò Huế is just a few blocks north, on SE 82nd & Harrison.

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On this particular occasion, I opted for the dac biet (“kitchen sink” version).

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The dac biet version features abundant slices of rare beef (the same lean, thinly shaved eye of round that graces pho tai) in addition to the plethora of other meats, including a peppery, house made cha lua that is some of the tastiest pork loaf this side of the Willamette. As you can see, you need to bring your “A” game if you want to power down this bowl of soup. It is not for the faint of heart or those possessing weak-willed alimentary canals.

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I immediately remove the knuckles and set them aside for post-meal nibbling.

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Ngoc graces you with the most prolific herb n’ salad plate in town, overflowing with perilla, rau ram, sprouts, and—as is customary with Bún Bò Huế—shredded lettuce and banana blossoms.

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When the garnish graces the soup all proper like, an impressive bowl gets even more impressive-er.

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In addition to the salad plate, this nuoc mam spiked with chopped bird chilies adds an immediate and visceral kick.

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At Ngoc, if you request “spicy”, you’re given a stout dollop of fiery red sate sauce that blends effortlessly into an already spicy and fragrant broth.

Ngoc and HA&VL, with just a moment’s walk between the two, bookend Portland’s ground zero for soup noodles. On 82nd Avenue, the best Vietnamese bowls—hell, the best soups in all of the city—are slurped not at Pho joints, but rather served at shops that don’t even serve pho. Seek them out.

Ngoc Han Bún Bò Huế

8230 SE Harrison St Ste 315
Portland, OR 97216
(503) 774-2761

Ngoc Han Bún Bò Huế on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

pdxPlate
Portlandfood.org

Gibsons: Chicago Road Trip, Red Meat Edition

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I was recently in Chicago with the family, visiting some dear friends, and decided to eat some meat.

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Gibson’s is a prototypical old school steakhouse, some would say “an institution”, the kind of place where framed portraits of celebrities are plastered over every inch of wall. This is your chance to eat at the same place where the guy who starred as the bitter paraplegic vet in Forrest Gump devoured a porterhouse. The restaurant is located just north of downtown Chicago at the epicenter (the “G spot”?) of an area known as the “Viagra Triangle”, named presumably because it’s where formerly virile captains of industry bring their silicon-enhanced, pre-fab trophy fillies (with whom they are cheating on their third wives with) to consume Cobb salads and long drink cocktails just prior to chemically enhancing their flaccid male appendages.

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The night kicks off when the white-jacketed waitron—a pro’s pro, he’s been doing this his whole life—presents you with a slab of naked meat that’s nearly startling with its immensity and near-pornagraphic bravura. The meat parade is one of the odder steakhouse traditions. It is quite uncomfortable being presented with raw flesh, just inches from your face, while some stranger prods the tepid meat with his index digit. The spiel here is relatively short, straightforward and sticks to the script. Menus are dropped in quick order and drinks are dispatched. Service here consisted of several, interchangeable and well-oiled apparatus – brusquely appropriate and warmly efficient.

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Bread is brought immediately.

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Gibson’s raison d’etre. The steaks are wet aged, as opposed to dry.

The menus and wine menu. Like many images on this blog, clicking on them will allow the user to view a larger specimen.

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We started with this “Crabmeat Avocado”. It was quite good–and expertly carved avocado half, inverted and topped with plenty of sweet crab meat, topped with a tangy goddess-like dressing.

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A velvety-smooth lobster bisque and perfunctory caesar salad accompanied our steaks.

I got the bone-in tenderloin. Now, some may say this steak is burnt. I’m not going to go that far, but I will state the exterior char was nearing a level that I’m not normally comfortable with (but not quite).

The steak itself was cooked perfectly to the medium-rare I requested. It was a decent slab of meat, however it could have benefited from a bordelaise sauce, something to add flavor and richness. I’m not sure why I order tenderloin when I know it’s going to be, well, just tenderloin–a mostly flavorless cut, even when it’s prime beef.

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And the tarragon-flecked hollandaise it’s served with is a cloying, middling affair.

This sirloin, served atop a red wine reduction, on the other hand, was packed full of flavor. This was excellent the next morning (with some leftover rice) for breakfast.

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The sauteed spinach and mushrooms were really just spinach mostly wilted from the heat of the sauteed shrooms. Somewhat disappointing.

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And this double baked potato was comically immense.

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But really, what is better than fine red wine and fine red prime during a night on the town in the City of Broad Shoulders?

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Yippee! Let’s get cake. This slice fed the three of us.

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So we had to take the other 4/5ths back home to the fridge, where the cake will stand, uneaten for the most part, in prime real estate on the second shelf, slowly but surely mocking you as a reminder of all the bad decisions you’ve made in your life. This latest, cake-over-ordering episode is simply another instance.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

1028 N Rush St, Chicago
(312) 266-8999
www.gibsonssteakhouse.com

La Fuente

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La Fuente is occupies a very modest storefront in “old town” Tigard, just set off a ways from Value Village. It’s easy to miss; I’ve driven by it for over a year now without noticing it. It took a recommendation from user Prone to Hyperbole at Portlandfood.org to seek it out.

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La Fuente is a proper Mexican restaurant with a full menu.

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And the tacos occupy just a subset of the varied offerings.

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Things started off in true cantina Mexican fashion with some warm fried tortilla chips and a serviceable tomato salsa (free).

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The “tacos mexicanos” — standard taqueria style. The usual litmus test of asada, carnitas, and pastor.

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Asada.

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Carnitas.

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Pastor.

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Fully dressed taco.

The table sauces here are mediocre; ExtraMSG at Portlandfood.org pointed out they may very well be the Herdez commercial brand. The tacos themselves were quite good. The pastor is not the best I’ve had, but it was seasoned nicely and was delivered with a nice char. The asada was undercrisped, but well seasoned, and the carnitas was meaty and delicious. The fresh tortillas were soft and pillowy, and reminded me much like the excellent onesTaqueria Sanchez serves just down the road.

This place is worth your time to visit if you’re in the mood for taqueria-style tacos. On the strength of their tacos alone, and considering it’s proximity to my house, it warrants an exploration of its other non-taco offerings as well.

La Fuente

12198 SW Main St
Tigard, OR 97223
(503) 639-3653

La Fuente on the WORLD WIDE WEB

Portlandfood.org

Pho Nguyen

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Phở Nguyễn nestles in a large strip mall anchored by a Fred Meyer on Beaverton Hillsdale Highway at the point Portland segues into Beaverton proper.

It’s a pretty standard Vietnamese pho joint, with a numbered menu and the various combinations of pho.

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Goi cuon. They were delivered immediately, which means they were pre-rolled, which is fine if the roll contains more than one paper thin slice of pale boiled pork and a single halved shrimp. Very weak.

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The salad plate at Nguyen is very generous, including ample amount of ngo gai, which is essential for pho. The inclusion of sawtooth herb on a garnish plate is usually a good indication a place takes their pho seriously.

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Pho tai chin, my standard order.

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Close-up of the chin/brisket. Very tender and flavorful.

Phở Nguyễn does a nice job with their soup. I’ve had the pho here a little over half a dozen times, and each bowl has been consistent and satisfying. The broth is neither overpowering nor amazingly nuanced, but it does have a nice balance — this is predictable pho, which is a good thing. I haven’t had anything besides pho here, probably because the insipid goi cuon placed some doubts in my mind.

Phở Nguyễn

4795 SW 77th Avenue
Portland, OR 97225
(503) 297-3389

Phở Nguyễn on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

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Miwon BBQ

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Miwon BBQ is located in the Fubonn Shopping Center on SE 82nd.

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First and foremost, Miwon is a classic Cantonese-style BBQ joint, replete with whole ducks and sides of bbq pig hanging on hooks, ready to be purchased by the pound.

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The Buddhist shrines remind me of my Mom’s worship of the jolly, wise fat man.

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The BBQ to-go menu.

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Miwon is a full-serve restaurant as well. The premier soup, available with either thin rice or egg noodles, is chock full of the BBQ meat items they sell to-go by the pound.

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The Super Bowl “A”, featuring roast duck, bbq pork, roast pork, wontons, and egg noodles. If you count wontons (and I do), that’s four types of meat! It really is a feast, and the broth is just mild enough to allow the meats to shine. The greens add a wonderful vegetal counterbalance.

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Duck.

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Roast pork.

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Wonton porn.

Miwon BBQ

Fubonn Shopping Center
2850 SE 82nd Ave
Portland, OR 97266
(503) 501-5008

Road Trip: Southland Fried Chicken Edition

Los Angeles has it share of problems. And for that, LA likewise amasses its share of detractors who decry the smog, earthquakes, and transparently farcical celebrity sex tapes.

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If you’ve read the news lately, you’re aware the state of California is on also the brink of insolvency. As I exited LA one early weekday recent morning, I drove past a local high school. I was greeted by quite a sight: school faculty and students alike in active protest against impending, draconian budget cuts that threaten to turn the LA Unified School District into an instrument more suited to serve a third-world banana republic rather than future adults living in America’s second most populous conurbation. By the time this blog post is published, the radical mouth-breathers holding California’s state legislature hostage may have already decreed that public education (as well as life-sustaining services for the sick and elderly) is just another Socialist folly dispensed from a pile of filthy lucre, one that deliberately engenders class warfare. If what I heard on AM talk radio as I drove north between Bakersfield and Fresno is any indication, there are many fatalists looking forward to their state’s impending implosion.

But I digress, as—despite all these problems—Los Angeles has excellent fried chicken.

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Pollo Campero is a Guatemalan chain that has made recent in-roads into America (including a few Wal-marts). The Los Angeles area boasts numerous locations. This is fast-food, and the combos here–in lieu of mashed potatoes, corn, and a biscuit and honey—feature rice, beans and steamed white corn tortillas.

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I’m unsure of the exact provenance of the marinade which gives the pollo frito at Campero a reddish hue. I assume it’s spiked with plenty of red chilies—but the chicken is neither spicy nor aggressively seasoned. Finger-torn strips of meat, wrapped in tortillas and topped with garnishes from the self-serve salsa bar (chopped onions, a sub-par salsa fresca, and serviceable verde and red sauces) make serviceable, impromptu fried chicken tacos. Chicken itself off the bone was fantastic, with savory crispness that had me seeking bits of battered goodness hiding in the crevices of a breast rib.

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The sides at Pollo Campero were a pleasant surprise. A mild rice–studded with peas stood up relatively well, nothing special.

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But the beans—pintos imbued with porky goodness from the bacon and sausage they were simmered with—were very good. Pollo Campero is the type of “boutique” fast food I could live with.

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On another end of the fried chicken spectrum, by way of Korea, is Kyochon, an eatery in Koreatown whose culinary reputation has reached near-mythic proportions. Reading Jonathon Gold’s effusive praise in the LA Weekly cemented my desire to see for myself if the fried chicken was worth the price (which starts at $4.99 for 4 wings or 2 drumsticks).

Kyochon features two flavors, a garlic soy or the spicy “original”. I picked up a four pack of spicy wings, and a 2-piece portion of the garlic soy drumsticks.

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The chicken pieces they had on hand must have been deemed on the smaller side, as we were actually given three very flavorul and crispy drumsticks…

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…and five amazing chicken wings. The smell of these heavenly morsels quickly dominated during the car ride home, and resisting the urge to snack on a wing as I hurtled down Pico Blvd was torturous. I will say these fiery, sticky and sweet wings were some of the best I’ve had. Fuck the celery and blue cheese—give me a bucket of these and crisp pint of lager come football season.

More

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Hakatamon

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It’s  been a bit over a year since Hakatamon—the Japanese restaurant nestled into the southwest corner of the Uwajimaya superstore in Beaverton—debuted it’s ramen. Known for its hand rolled udon, Hakatamon went on noodle hiatus at the time – claiming that a spike in wheat prices had made making it’s own udon noodles untenable. As they announced a move towards commercially available udon, they also announced that they would debut two ramen dishes in April, 2008, including a tonkotsu (pork bone broth) and a cha sui ramen (stewed pork).

I was quite excited, as my ramen experiences in Portland have been less than stellar. When I first moved here in 2002, I frequented the Koji Osakaya on Macadam and ate their version of both tonkotsu and cha sui ramen regularly. Though they were using clearly pre-fab fresh ramen packages, they did generally an ok job of gussying it up enough to sate my appetite.

Nothing could compare, however, to the excellent ramen I at often in San Diego when I lived there in the late nineties, or the ramen I’ve eaten in the Bay Area. Ramen tastes and one’s idea of what constitutes “good” ramen is one of the most subjective concepts in the food universe. When Biwa opened up in 2006 and served ramen in their excellent izakaya setting, I was very underwhelmed. However, it seemed to be universally held up by others in this fair burg as an excellent rendition of the venerable Japanese noodle soup. For me, it always fell short, but that’s the subject of another post.

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Hakatamon also does a fairly good job with some of the Japanese standards. This poke is one of my favorites in town, if only because it’s an excellent value at only $5.95.

The sashimi and nigiri I’ve had heard has been inconsistent, but generally I would have to give them fairly good marks, again for the ratio of value/quality that can be had here. I’ve explored many other items on the menu – katsu, chirashi, (large rice balls studded in the center with a single uemeboshi) – and all has been solid-to-fair.

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Back to the ramen. The standard bowl ($7.95) is garnished sparingly with pickled ginger, green onions, a hunk of stewed pork, sliced stewed konbu, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

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The noodles here are commercial noodles that—if I had a guess (judging by their texture and lack of curliness)—begin the day as dried noodles. Not ideal by any means, but they stand up relatively well.

I will go on record by saying I enjoy the hakata-style ramen at Hakatamon. When they first opened, it seemed to me they were serving two separate, rich and hearty stocks – a cloudier, cream-colored tonkotsu pork bone broth, and a bold, darker version that accompanied the cha sui version. Both were excellent, however the two broth strategy appeared to be ditched shortly after introduction and only one broth (more the former than the latter) is now served.

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The cha sui ($9.50) is basically the standard hakata-style with more pork.

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And what good pork it is. Fall-apart tender slices of meat, with a hefty amount of fat (and a bit of unctuous skin) that melts away as you bite into it. The broth has the same viscosity as the tonkotsu, nice and thick and “meaty”, and picks up some of the rendering fat from the pork as you eat through it. Slurping up the last few spoonfuls of broth was rich and satisfying, akin to sucking on a pork marrow bone.

Hakatamon

(503) 430-3106
4130 SW 117th Ave
Beaverton, OR 97005

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Hob Knob Grille

I recently dropped by the Hob Knob Grille on SE Morrison, a new-ish eatery that occupies the former digs of the mediocre Southeast outpost of Salvador Molly’s…

And gave their house ground Hobnob Burger a whirl. It’s an interesting take on a standard, served with a chipotle cream cheese, a tomato jam, lettuce, tomato (sprinkled with fresh ground pepper), and a single Hungarian-style skinny chili.

Thankfully, it’s served on an expertly toasted bun (burgers on ciabatta is the worst culinary trend of this millenium). My burger came out decidedly more on the medium side than the medium rare I requested, but this was a very flavorful, honest burger. The chips, while nice and house made, makes you pine for fries.

Hob Nob is aiming to fill that niche of solid neighborhood eatery. If this burger is any indication, they are doing a fine job.

Hob Knob Grille

3350 SE Morrison St
Portland, OR 97214
503.445.3665

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Papa Haydn (West)

Papa Haydn, located on Northwest Portland’s bustling 23rd Avenue, is a destination due to its plethora of dessert and pastry choices. I stopped by a while ago to check out their bistro burger.

Things started off with this French onion soup. The soup was fairly standard, with a thick slab of gruyere melted upon a raft of bread floating atop the earthenware dish. The broth was a bit understated, but the onions were thick and meaty.

The burger came atop a nicely toasted brioche-like bun. Some very good, fresh-cut (near) shoestring fries accompanied the burger.

Mustard and ketchup on the side. The burger here is fairly standard, and the beef is pretty flavorful. My gripe was the shape of the patty. It had a dome shape most commonly associated with a hand-formed backyard patty–too thick in the middle, with tapered edges. As it stood, its total circumference was too sparse to adequately blanket the bun on which it sat.

Lunch ended with this lemon tart with a meringue border. Like I mentioned, Papa Haydn is known for their desserts. This tasted like dessert.

Papa Haydn (West)

701 NW 23rd Ave.
Portland, OR
(503) 228-7317

Northwest Hot Dogs

This

This hot dog cart is located just south of Jamison Park in the Pearl District.

Presumably the gentleman behind these sauces and rubs has a say in the day-to-day operations of this food cart. I’m too lazy to do the research.

The menu.

A nicely grilled Chicken Italian Sausage, doused with standard condiments and copious amounts of Harry’s sauce.

Northwest Hot Dogs

Jamison Park (NW Johnson and 11th)
http://northwesthotdogs.com

Road Trip: Umami Burger

I was in Los Angeles recently, and entirely upon Oishii Eats’ heads up I decided to hit Umami Burger.

I already had my mind set on the namesake burger. Here’s the rest of the menu:

The Umami Burger interior itself presents a stylish, yet comforting, modernity.

The raison d’etre.

Triple pork burger with fries and “umami” ketchup.

Triple pork burger.

Umami burger.

Roasted tomato, umami ketchup, shitake mushroom, parmesan crispellete. Amazing. The composition of the burger really spoke to my worldview. Easily one of the top 5 burgers of my recent life.

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Malt Liquor Tempura onion rings.

Triple Pork Burger money shot. Ground pork seasoned with chorizo and “cob-smoked” bacon, manchego, and pimenton aioli. Wonderfully spiced. The roasted tomato slice served as a beautiful foil for the rest of the sandwich.

Mexicali Express

We’ve owned a Saturn in some shape or form for over a decade now, and it’s refreshing to see our customer loyalty rewarded by GM most likely killing the brand altogether. In the meantime, I’ll continue to get the car serviced in Beaverton at the Saturn dealership like I’ve been doing for the last seven years.

exterior

I’ve been driving by this place for seven years whenever I’ve traveled to Beaverton to get the Saturn serviced, and it never occurred to me to stop by. Recently, though, after a scheduled maintenance appointment, upon spotting this sign, I realized that I had three dollars.

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As you can see, the menu is a mix of old school Spanglish, and is somewhat hilarious.

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The “proper” taco menu is an addendum.

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Immediately, I was impressed with the prolific garnish opportunities, which included ranch dressing. I liken the appearance of ranch dressing in a restaurant to that of Matthew McConaughey in a movie. It ensures that the experience will be bad.

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In addition, these table sauces were available. They were weak and watery.

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The taco triumvirate (carne enchilada aka “marinated pork”, asada, carnitas). Each of these were a dollar. I had three dollars.

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Asada.

pastor

Carne enchilada aka “marinated pork”.

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Fully dressed tacos.

If you’re in Beaverton for any reason, I suggest you keep driving.

Mexicali Express

On a street in Beaverton. You will have to look it up yourself, as I can’t in good conscience direct you there by any means.

Aybla

<>AybalaAybla nestles itself amongst the conurbation of food carts downtown near the intersection SW 10th and Oak.

As this prominently displayed sign attests, they serve Portland’s best gyro. Although I haven’t had every gyro sandwich in the metro area, I would have to say this boast is probably not too far off the mark.

AybalaAybla does the standard “Kronos” style gyro, as this photo of a rapidly diminishing cone o’ meat demonstrates. The gyro provisions at AybalaAybla are generally shaved a bit thicker than most Kronos joints, and crisped real well. They seem to have a less processed/generic flavor than your standard mystery meat, but that could be just wishful thinking. I’m quite positive they don’t fashion that huge cone o’ meat themselves; most likely—like every Kronos gyro cone establishment east or west of Crete—the meat is factory prefabbed from refuse cuts, pure fat, and various binder agents, and most likely shipped from the same import distribution center in north Jersey or the south side of Chicago with involvement of various degrees by the mafia.

The gyro mob likewise also probably strong arms the forceful distribution of these ubiquitous sandwich wraps. The branding on this wrapper matches neither the restaurant in question, nor the general geographic vincinity. It is therefore hilarious.

But the real hawt action at AybalaAybla isn’t the gyro sandwich, anyhow, it’s the kefta kebab.

Here’s the menu (click to view larger version).

Aybla

925 SW Alder
SW 5th and Oak
Portland, OR
http://www.ayblagrill.com

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Portland Food Carts has been here

Dang’s Redux

A recent meal at Dang’s Thai Kitchen in Lake Oswego confirms this restaurant to be the among the best in the Portland area, churning out fresh, superlative Thai favorites with consistency.

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Som tum (papaya salad). Dang’s is my favorite in town. Spicy and tart. ($6.00)

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Fresh tofu spring rolls, served with peanut sauce. Standard and straightforward, though fresh and–at $4.00–quite a bargain.

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The ever-popular Angel Wings–boneless chicken wings, stuffed with “sausage” and breaded.($7.00)

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Cross section of the fat part of an Angel Wing.

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Chicken satay ($6.00), served with peanut sauce, a cucumber vinegar/relish, and toast. A good rendition: lean–yet moist–and very flavorful.

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At $13.00, this green curry beef was one of the most expensive items on Dang’s menu, but as you can see above, it’s quite a portion. This was absolutely amazing. Rather than a creamy, coconut-based sauce, this was a stir-fried item, brimming with various eggplants and garnished with a thick ladle of coconut cream and fried Thai basil leaves. Tender slices of beef were bathed in a complex, plate-lickingly delicious sauce that contained the usual notes of spicy chili and lemongrass, but was also redolent of toasted and fresh ground whole spices including cardamon, coriander, and cumin, and perfumed with an abundance of julienned galangal.

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After spying Sauce Supreme’s recent foray with Dang’s stuff squid in green curry ($10), I knew the next time I was here I would have to try it. It did not disappoint. Creamy, slightly sweet, and featuring amazingly tender purses of squid stuffed with spiced pork and shrimp. Absolutely fantastic.

This entire meal was $50 and provided enough leftovers to fuel two subsequent meals.

Breakfast @HA&VL

A recent and rare Friday off from work meant an opportunity for a weekday breakfast at HA&VL

Today’s special was: Hu Tieu Nam Vang – Phnom Penh noodle soup with shrimp & fishballs, charsiu pork, squid, pork liver, slices of roasted pork with noodle in pork broth, mixed with ground pork & Chinese celery and onion on top.

Certainly a fine soup. My favorite @HA&VL remains the crab soup.

The family at HA&VL are a special group. If I lived closer to here I would eat breakfast there at least every week.

UPDATE

I had breakfast here today (Sunday), and the bun thang was as good as it has ever been. So I can’t say the crab soup is my favorite. I’m torn.

They even hooked my daughter up with a bowl of her own. I asked for a small bowl to share, and a dimunitive, milder version (served in a what my daughter excitedly proclaimed was a “big mug!”) was whisked in front of my daughter. I love these people.

Nakwon

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I recently ducked into Nakwon, a small-ish Korean restaurant located in picturesque downtown Beaverton.

I was a bit out of sorts from the previous night’s excessive celebrating, and was in the mood for a pick-me-up…something spicy. And red.

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As it turned out, this spicy beef soup with glass noodles–delivered to the table in a bubbling hot cauldron–fit the bill quite nicely.

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Prior to that momentous event, I was quite happy to be presented with an opportunity to hydrate myself, being parched and all. I love a restaurant that doesn’t fuck around with water service–in particular a Korean restaurant that serves spicy food.

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The assortment of banchan at Nakwon is quite nice.

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Chewy little fishies.

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This tasted like air.

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(It must suck to be the ramekin washer at a busy Korean restaurant)

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A neat, tightly covered stainless steel bowl revealed a generous serving of steamed rice.

Of course that egg went right into the stew.

Man this was a hearty, satisfying bowl of delicious. I even took my time to carefully savor this meal over the course of twelve minutes.

Nakwon

(503) 646-9382
4600 SW Watson Ave
Beaverton, OR 97005

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HA & VL Revisited

I’ve made a few repeat visits to HA & VL on SE 82nd to sample their excellent rotation of daily soup specials, and I must say this unassuming storefront tucked away in a roundabout strip just north of the Fubonn super shopping center continues to capture my delicious fancy in ways that I have rarely experienced in my short time on this earth.

On Sundays, one of the two soup specials includes bun thang (in addition to a chicken pho). Bun thang was a staple soup in my household. Though my mom prided herself on her terrificly nuanced pho, this rice noodle soup–clear broth accompanied by a protein triumvirate of omelette chiffonade, sliced cha lua (Vietnamese pork loaf/bologna), and tender chicken meat, pulled from the bone—was the stockpot dish I’d most commonly smell when I awoke on weekends.

HA & VL’s version is a veritable revelation, at once resplendent with nostalgia and packed with savory, “clean” flavors from the broth and the seemingly perfect proportional distributions of noodles and accoutrements. A final garnish—a crumble consisting of seasoned, toasted and minced dried shrimp—takes this bowl from terrestrial to other-worldliness.

Perhaps the family at HA & VL are using standard, commercially available rice noodles in their soups, but here they seem so much more toothsome and satisfying.

On a recent Thursday morning I was fortunate to leave the house a bit early to get to HA & VL to sample their ethereal crab soup. This soup features bahn canh noodles; thick, chewy and substantial rice noodles with a toothsome bite not unlike Japanese udon.

Though it is billed as crab soup, crab lends more of a distinguishing background to the stock, with ephemeral slivers of crab flesh punctuating the thick, impossibly savory and viscous broth.

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As usual with Viet soups, a dish of fresh herbs and vegetable garnish pairs on the side.

The soup is studded with pink shrimp, quail eggs…

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…and wonderfully meaty and fatty slices of tenderly braised pork. A sprinkle of fried shallots complete the bowl, a dish so overflowing with umami and residual deliciousness that it’s nearly depressing; each passing, joyful bite is somehow counterbalanced with an impending dread that the soup is that much closer to depletion.

Then you are done.

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Keep in mind the availability of the soups here is–like every bite–impermanent. HA & VL only serve their specials during the wee morning hours, starting at 7:30 am on weekdays and 8 am on weekends, and only until they sell out. I spoke with the matron about the possibility of opening throughout the day, perhaps into the evening; she responded with a trite perfunctory truism—she’s older, and she couldn’t handle the grind of a full workday churning out the necessary provisions for cover after endless cover.

There is probably some truth to this. But I also suspect a separate phenomenon is in play here. There exists a demarcation between what is created at a micro level, and what can be successfully executed via extrapolation with every nuance intact. What HA & VL are doing is cooking for their extended family, and you just happen to have an invite to a front row seat if you get there early enough. The care and honor they imbue into every bowl of soup that is whisked from their compact kitchen cannot be duplicated at a macro level. To do so would be disingenuous.

The Interwebs

PDXPlate
Portlandfood.org
BB@ Eat.Drink.Think. has been there
So has the Oregonian‘s Karen Brooks